Photo courtesy of Ozier Muhammad
Photo courtesy of Ozier Muhammad

Upon scrolling through the articles and postings by Facebook friends this morning, I came across an article from the Gothamist about the items for sale in the gift shop of the 9/11 museum:

In a city known for hustling and making a fast buck, I find very little wrong with entrepreneurial endeavors and sheer capitalistic gain. In fact, this is what makes New York City so remarkable.  Sure, there is competition–But there is also opportunity and drive  which far exceeds the confines of unattainable growth and apathy found in too many places across our free country. This is why religious zealots hate us. So much in fact, that they attempted to cripple our nation on September 11, 2001.  Al Qaeda partially succeeded, having killed approximately 3,000 individuals in Lower Manhattan, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania.

I didn’t fully agree with the prevention of rebuilding the space that occupied the World Trade Center. I am more than sensitive to the fact that family and friends lost one loved ones.  Those left behind hoped that the space would remain vacant since it was a heartbreaking remembrance of tragic death . Given that the event occurred in  the heart of the financial district, however, would make this infeasible.  As difficult and painful as it is, life must continue and the business world must prosper-to reasonable extent. I will elaborate on this further.

In typical bureaucratic fashion, it took years of heated argument and discussion, until a decision was to be made about what would be built in its place.  Architect Michael Arad’s concept of falling waters was simple and profound. It offered a quiet, pensive   beauty, replete with solemnity and honor. The exhibit opened in 2010 and continues to be a fitting memorial where visitors can attend (free of charge),  and read the names of those who perished. Much like the Vietnam and Korean War memorials, such places are  intended to offer reflection, gratitude, and hope. And they succeed.

This week, the 9/11 Museum opened. According to its website it offers the following mission statement:

“Demonstrating the consequences of terrorism on individual lives and its impact on communities at the local, national, and international levels, the Museum attests to the triumph of human dignity over human depravity and affirms an unwavering commitment to the fundamental value of human life.” 

The purpose of the memorial is well intended as it is extremely costly to maintain. The museums’ yearly operating costs are estimated at 60 million, and it receives no federal or state funding. However, the museum crosses the line of decency by incorporating a gift shop on the premises. In no way does this “attest to the triumph of human dignity over human depravitiy”.  What it does attest  to is the simple fact that museum owners can make an easy and quick dollar on the backs of voyeuristic tourists, which rather exemplifies human depravity. How does a cheese plate in the shape of the United States, or a stuffed animal puppy with a first responder vest—or even a seemingly innocuous coffee mug- help us to  “Never Forget?”.   Easy answer: It does not.

Having been a New Yorker on that horrific day and those following, I can unpleasantly recall the requests from visitors “wanting to visit Ground Zero.” It was not out of reverence for the event that had just happened, but rather a morbid fascination and a chance to tell friends and neighbors that they were there. This was all before the dawn of social media. Thirteen years later, you can believe that throngs of people will flock  towards Chambers Street, posting selfies of themselves with friends and reassuring us with comments that they are “never forgetting.” After all, on Facebook, we can show the world  just how much compassion and care we truly have. Politicians will continue to use this place as a platform for patriotism and will reassure us with their eloquent speeches that we are a “strong and resilient” people.  Consequently,  the intent and significance which the ground represents will be blinded by displays of self serving bravado and attention.

Carrying cheap tchotchkes  to the heartland does not bring honor to anyone who suffered  the devastation of 9/11. Carrying their  memory in your hearts and minds does. Teaching your children tolerance and respect does. Rejoicing and expressing  gratitude in our freedom does. Understanding that capitalism works, but not at the sacrifice of human life does. I will never forget the unspeakable tragedy that unfolded on that infamous day. As for the unspeakably distasteful gift shop—I’ll forget it.